Wednesday, 29 September 2010

On ‘saving’ the Crosby Garrett helmet

Barendina Smedley on her 'Fugitive ink' blog has (among other fascinating stuff) a beautifully written and thought-producing post "On ‘saving’ the Crosby Garrett helmet" which raises a number of points about the wider significance of the find and in particular the issues surrounding its sale and what is likely to happen afterwards. She has not quite, I feel, captured the relationship between the finder, Christies and the PAS, but that is a minor quibble. Well worth a read. She mentions this blog in passing, characterising my own coverage of the case "well-informed bleakness and pessimism of a very high order indeed" well, how else can one write about the current state of antiquity collecting?

Meanwhile in another blog post I forgot to mention earlier, Nigel Swift asks "what nobler use could there be for lawyers?" in his post ("The Crosby Garrett Helmet (Hiccus!)") discussing how the taxpayer is now probably going to have to fork out a lot of cash to honour a contract drawn up seven years ago (?) between landowner and metal detector owner.
There is more than enough on the net about the magnificent Crosby Garrett Roman helmet and the one thing anyone Googling it will realise is that everyone – whether they are a detectorist, archaeologist or human being – will think the reported circumstances of its alleged discovery, form, removal, provenance, secrecy, find spot, restoration, marketing and reporting are mighty rum – and that all of those are all the more concerning in view of the fact the system we have means that we have to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay to the finder and landowner else they might squeeze it under an export ban and heroically sell it to the highest bidder abroad.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very generous comments you make it the course of that link.

You're absolutely right, by the way, that I don't properly capture 'the relationship between the finder, Christies and the PAS' - but the reason for this is that, until I explored your blog further, which I only managed to do after I'd finished writing my own post, I was unaware of the complexities of this relationship. For instance, the comments from Roger Bland at the PAS were eye-opening for someone like me - but then there's an enormous amount on your site that's worth reading, to put it mildly, so perhaps next time I'll do better! Heaven knows, the mainstream media is unlikely to trouble us with uncomfortable truths along these lines. Long may you continue to do so, though.

Mo said...

" For instance, one of the various genuinely interesting questions left unanswered by the Christie’s experts is the issue of the helmet’s origins. Where was the helmet made? Does anyone know the answer to this? And who might have worn it?"

This is a point I have been trying make but not as eloquently.

I find it hard to understand that there has been little comment about the units that were based near to where the helmet was found.

At Brough there is evidence of an irregular unit and also a tombstone which is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum. This tombstone is written in Greek which was very unusual. This is five miles from where the helmet was found.

At Brougham there is evidence of a cavalry unit from what is now Turkey.

Christies have said is that it looks like the Dacian and Sarmatian helmets on Trajan's Column.

If you look at images of the rider's helmet depicted on the funeral stele in the museum at Chester that is what I understand to be a Sarmatian helmet.

The draco that the rider is holding is thought to be the origin of the Welsh flag. The draco was also carried by Harold's army at the Battle of Hastings. A powerful image inherited from the Roman auxillaries.

"Whoever might have worn this mask – he’s ours, he’s us."

I agree, there are people in the borders whose DNA suggest that they are descendants of the auxillary soldiers.

We should certainly not be letting our Romano-British heritage go the highest bidder.

Paul Barford said...

Fugitive Ink, thanks. The comment about the PAS was not a criticism, I agree with everything else, just pointing ouyut there are things going on in the background that are not being so openly discussed.

Mo, you know these really are aspects more suited to the PAS comments section than this blog, where I am more interested in the aspects concerning artefact hunting and collecting. Perhaps one reason why nobody is keen on discussing the historical background may be that there are really very serious doubts about the finding and subsequent treatment of this object. Until the PAS gets along there and does a proper investigation (including excavation) to determine what can be recovered now post-fact about the context of the deposition of this object (like was it part of a hoard) can we say anything at all apart from "ooo - nice, how very interesting!".

Try asking the PAS where you can find their discussion of these aspects of this find as part of their public outreach. While you are at it, ask them what legislative changes they have proposed to the public and lawmakers as a result of this well-publicised case.

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